Kevin Reynolds, bad boots, big heart

Damn those figure skating boots.

Poorly fitting boots have trailed Kevin Reynolds all season. They scuttled his Grand Prix season, tough on a guy who could really use the prize money to finance his skating. It made his first competition of the season the Canadian championships, which were also the Olympic trials, so he had to put out if he was to get to the Olympics. (And remember he had to watch the Vancouver Olympics in his home city on the sidelines, because he missed the berth by one spot.) We saw a long program in Ottawa there that really wasn’t emoted the way it could have been; he was struggling to get through it.

Then a miracle. Reynolds rose to the occasion and skated the long program of his life in the team event at the Olympics, and clinched the silver medal for Canada. Evgeny Plushenko defeated him by only a quarter of a point, buoyed by some PCS marks that perhaps shouldn’t have been. That success didn’t follow Reynolds to the individual event, where he finished 17th in the short program, then 10th in the free, while having the sixth highest technical mark. Overall, he was 15th, not the Kevin Reynolds we saw at last year’s world championships, when he finished third in the short and fifth overall.

It was the boots, the lack of proper training time, the waning confidence, the frustration.

Reynolds will go to the world championships next week as Canada’s No. 1 man, since three-time world champion Patrick Chan has opted out. Reynolds hasn’t even had time to consider the position that he’s in: he’s been too focused on just getting through each day, managing his boot problems and getting to the end of the season intact.

“I don’t think it will seem the same, until I’ve been in a competition without him,” Reynolds said March 19. “We’ve competed with each other for so long. It will be a little bit different to be at a competition without him, especially at a world championship.”

Still, training has been going better than it did going into nationals or even the Olympics, he said. He’s pushing through. He will have two more weeks to survive through these nightmare boots, and then he can settle his problems once and for all – probably going to a custom-made boot.

His equipment problems haven’t been fixed yet, because he has had no time to solve them totally. Every measure has been a stop-gap, to get him to Sochi. He has very narrow heels – AA actually, and perhaps closer to AAA if there is such a thing, but most boot manufacturers don’t make boots with heels narrow than A. The feel in the boots Reynolds gets from that is discomfort, uncertainty. The boot doesn’t lock his heel in, and when he goes for a jump, he doesn’t have the stability he needs to do things consistently.

Last year, Reynolds was lucky to find a stock boot that actually fit him like a glove. “It was heaven,” he said. He bought up three or four pairs of these, then found they didn’t fit like a glove. Perhaps the ones he had last year for all his successes were a manufacturing mistake, a mis-measurement that fell in his favour. He has never tried a custom boot before. They’re more expensive, of course.

When it became clear that Reynolds’ boots were a problem, the boot manufacturer tried to solve the problem from a distance. Reynolds took measurements of his feet and photos, too, and sent them off for analysis, to make a more custom foot. The manufacturer fixed some problems, but others arose. And then it all snowballed. Reynolds boots started to break down ridiculously fast. He’d feel good in them for a week or two, he said, then they’d break down and the search continued. He went through eight or nine pairs this past season.

So he’s keeping the boots he used for Sochi, although they are not perfect. The only way he can overcome this problem is to “manage” it. And by that he means, he puts the failings of his skates and the imperfect feel of them to the back of his mind and every day, goes out and gets out the programs and the jumps the best way he knows how. It seems to be working better than at any time in the season.

After the Olympics, he’ll work to have custom boots done. They will take time, time he didn’t have during the season.

What’s motivated him to train for the world championships in Saitama, is the thought that soon this torture will end. He can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Another week or so of this, and he will be free.

After his performance in the team event, Reynolds was on a mental high, so much so that during practices in Sochi, he didn’t miss a jump. In the days between the team event and the individual event, he was practicing to 100 per cent of his ability, even though he wasn’t feeling comfortable. He’s a trooper, that Reynolds guy. He wasn’t thinking about his boots. Everything was going well, until that first jump in the short program. He was ready to do it. It just didn’t happen. It’s been that kind of year.

For now, his accuracy and consistency is much improved. His quads are sailing like usual. His nemesis has always been the triple Axel, but he’s been working steadfastly on them. His aim is to position himself well after the short program, and so he’s been focusing on that great piece of ACDC,  one of his masterpiece programs – if only we could see it. He’s had a short season.

Despite his adventurous ride, Reynolds did have his Olympic experience – and he found out what that meant when he arrived home in Vancouver, to find a group of about 100 people to greet him in the airport – and a television camera that he hadn’t expected. “It’s been crazy, the amount of attention that the Olympics has gotten,” he said. “The amount or recognition that I’ve had from everyday people, that I’d never really gotten before in Canada – it’s been a wonderful experience.”

He’s now getting used to the everyday recognition. He’s recognized out in public now. People come up to him on the street – something they didn’t do after his more stellar effort at the world championships last year. He’s a public underdog, who has fought through adversity. People even come to the rink where he trains and congratulates him. “It’s been a really cool feeling,” he said.

Now on to Japan, where he is loved and has a following. He speaks their language, and they his.

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